By Jon Gremmels
Herald Sports Editor
After making a hard push to get back into the game, the Clinton Community College Cougars were unable to sustain it to the finish, falling 78-66 in their men’s basketball home opener on Wednesday night in W.J. Yourd Gymnasium.
James Randolph keyed the Cougars’ comeback from a 39-29 halftime deficit, scoring 14 of his game-high 20 points in the second half.
“We got there,” he said of getting back into the game and pulling ahead in the early part of the second half, “but we made a couple of minor mistakes that kept us from getting it.”
Carl Sandburg coach Ryan Twaddle wasn’t so sure his team deserved to win.
“I feel we walked out of here extremely lucky,” he said. “I told the kids (at halftime) that whoever won the first five minutes of the second half would win the game. I thought we disrespected Clinton Community College and the game of basketball, and they came out and took it to us a good portion of the second half.”
Despite Clinton’s 0-2 start, which included a tough-to-take 52-50 loss Saturday at Black Hawk East College, the Cougars are a better team this year, according to both coaches.
“We’re going to win games,” Clinton coach Joe Shovlain said. “We have a lot better players.”
One of them is Randolph, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound freshman forward. He provided an immediate lift for the Cougars after halftime, scoring inside on a leaner and adding a driving basket as CCC cut the gap to 39-33 in the first minute of the half.
“I was just trying to get out and get momentum going and get the team into it,” Randolph said.
Xzavion Jones, a freshman who played with Randolph at Davenport North, then got in the act. Jones (13 points) was fouled in transition and made a pair of free throws, then scored a transition layup off a pass from Virshaun Grant to make it 39-37 with 18 minutes, 13 seconds remaining in the game.
Aaron Powers stopped the run with a basket for the Chargers, but the Cougars didn’t let up.
A 3-point basket by sophomore Richard Hurt (10 points) pulled Clinton within 41-40, and he hit another after another basket by Powers to tie the game at 43 with 15:42 left. Randolph then gave the Cougars their first lead since 7-4 with his first of two straight baskets, leaning in to score on a power move from the right block.
Sandburg responded with a 6-2 run to pull even at 49, but CCC went back ahead at 11:48 on a driving basket by Jones.
Dane Barun, a 6-6 sophomore, scored on a putback at 11:21 to push Clinton’s lead to 53-49, but baskets by Anthony Misuraca and Mitch Wendling (11 points) got Sandburg even at 53. The Chargers then took the lead to stay when 6-3 sophomore guard Seth Wickert scored on a fast break, was fouled and made the free throw to complete the three-point play. He finished with a team-high 17 points.
Clinton cut the deficit to one three more times, the last at 60-59 on two free throws from Charles Pemberton (12 points), before Carl Sandburg slowly pulled away over the final 5 1/2 minutes.
“We created defense a little more out of our offense, and they started to miss some shots,” Twaddle said.
“We tried to get the lead back, but we couldn’t get it at the end; we couldn’t finish it tonight,” Randolph said.
The Cougars led in the early going. They started the game with baskets by Randolph and Hurt, one of four returning players on the CCC roster. Wendling countered with a pair of baskets to tie it, then a free throw by Randolph and a basket by Grant put CCC back on top 7-4. Consecutive 3-pointers by Juwan Hubbard and Wickert gave Sandburg the lead before Jones tied it at 10-10 with a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
The Chargers stayed hot from the outside, though, scoring 16 of the next 20 points. Wickert started a personal 7-0 run with a 3-pointer from the right wing, scored on a fast break and added a steal and layup to make it 17-10 with 13:15 left in the half. Jones scored on a drive down the lane, but Zach Grover (14 points) then went on a personal 9-2 run, drilling 3-pointers from the left corner, the right corner and the left wing to push Sandburg’s lead to 26-14 with 9:04 remaining.
“Grover hit some 3s with a hand in his face,” Twaddle said, adding that he wasn’t surprised to see the sophomore guard heat up. “That’s what he does. If he hits two, he’s going to hit three.”
A basket by Nunn and free throw from Wendling completed the 16-4 run for a 29-14 lead. The margin never got larger for the Chargers, though.
“With such young kids, they don’t understand that a 10-, 12-, 15-point lead is nothing,” Twaddle said.
Clinton came back utilizing its power game, with Randolph and the 6-5, 240-pound Pemberton working inside.
“Randolph and Pemberton are a load inside,” Twaddle said.
Pemberton dumped the ball to Randolph for an inside basket with 5:20 left that ended Sandburg’s run, then Pemberton added a pair of three-point plays on a rebound follow shots to make it 29-22. A basket by Jones cut the gap to 29-24.
The Chargers then scored eight of the next 10 points to push their lead back to 11 and carried a 10-point advantage into the locker room at halftime.
The Cougars could see what was working, though, and their adjustment got them the lead back in the second half.
“Basically, we said we want to go to James and Charles inside,” Shovlain said. “We changed the offense to allow them to get the ball. We felt it was a mismatch inside.”
But, Shovlain said, the Cougars also needed to find a counterpoint to the inside attack.
“We’ve got to have some guys step up and knock down shots outside,” he said. “There were serveral times that we moved the ball well enough, and if we’re ready to shoot, we have an open shot.”
Next up for Clinton is a 2 p.m. home game Saturday against Marshalltown Community College (3-0), one of three Iowa NJCAA Division I teams on the CCC schedule.
CARL SANDBURG 78, CLINTON COMMUNITY COLLEGE 66
CARL SANDBURG (2-1) — Juwan Hubbard 3 5-9 12, Anthony Misuraca 3 0-0 6, Jerrell White 1 0-0 2, Seth Wickert 6 3-3 17, Marvin Nunn 4 0-0 8, Zach Grover 5 0-0 14, Javauntae Hicks 0 0-0 0, Mitch Wendling 5 1-2 11, Aaron Powers 4 0-0 8. Totals 31 9-10 78.
CLINTON CC (0-2) — Virshaun Grant 1 2-2 4, Richard Hurt 4 0-0 10, Dominique Helgemo 1 0-0 2, Xzavion Jones 5 2-2 13, Kimani Stevens 1 1-2 3, James Randolph 9 2-5 20, Charles Pemberton 4 4-9 12, Dane Barun 1 0-0 2, BeeJay Caleb 0 0-0 0. Totals 26 11-20 66.
Halftime — Carl Sandburg 39, Clinton CC 29. 3-point goals — Carl Sandburg 7 (Grover 4, Wickert 2, Hubbard); Clinton CC 3 (Hurt 2, Jones). Total fouls — Carl Sandburg 18, Clinton CC 13. Fouled out — None.